Editor’s note: This article by Mike Donoghue was published in the Brattleboro Reformer on May 18, 2017.
BURLINGTON — A federal court jury in Burlington ruled Wednesday afternoon that the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain did not discriminate when it fired a former building and grounds worker in August 2014.
Effie Mayhew of Wilmington had maintained she was dismissed in retaliation for reporting to Jim Barnes, the club’s founder and president, that “Will and Bill,” the two horses at the Hermitage, had not been fed for 48 hours. Mayhew, 40, also said there were serious questions about other mistreatment of the so-called “Dream Team.” She said she was trying to protect the reputation of the club from being harmed.
The 1,400-acre club in West Dover which includes inns, a ski resort and golf course always said Mayhew was fired because of insubordination.
Barnes was pleased with the verdict when reached by phone after the three-day trial.
“I think it is nice when a jury recognizes the truth,” Barnes told The Brattleboro Reformer.
“Will and Bill are fine and we love them,” he said. Barnes said resort guests enjoy the two horses, which are used for sleigh and wagon rides.
The U.S. District Court civil jury – seven women and one man — deliberated for about 90 minutes before ruling in favor of the private luxury resort about 4 p.m.
Caroline Earle, Mayhew’s lawyer, said her client had “fought the good fight and was happy to have her day in court.” Efforts by Hermitage to have the lawsuit thrown out before trial had been rejected by the judge, she said.
Mayhew, who was hired by the club in April 2014, thought the jury was attentive and felt like she was heard, Earle said.
“She was disappointed, but it was never about the money. It was about the principle.” Earle said her client hoped the case “raised consciousness” about proper care of horses. “Hopefully it will draw some interest in the living conditions and how they are being managed,” Earle said.
While losing the trial, Mayhew’s case did establish new law, according to Earle.
Vermont law in dismissal cases has limited damages to lost wages and never allowed for recovery for emotional distress. Senior Federal Judge William K. Sessions ruled jurors would be allowed to consider emotional distress if they ruled in favor of Mayhew, Earle said.
“We made a little new law,” Earle said with the ruling by Sessions.
Mayhew had outlined about $20,000 to $25,000 in lost wages and health care insurance for the six months after her firing. Mayhew later found an equal paying job and later a higher paying job. She also testified that she was distraught after the firing and unsure how to tell future employers about her dismissal.